Dawn News

Queen Maya dreamt that a white elephant with six white tusks entered her right side and 10 months later Siddhartha was born. Siddhartha’s mother died a few days later.

Two thousand and five hundred years after this, Siddhartha drew his mother’s sketch on the floor of an Iraqi orphanage and slept on her arm.

No elephant with white tusks was there to protect him.

“See this,” Jassim Taqwi put a picture on the table as Rashid Khan pulled hookah at the Springfield Shisha Bar in Northern Virginia. This was Siddhartha in the orphanage.

Zalmay pushed the hookah away and hid the picture with a newspaper but the image remained with him.

“When a person dies, a new one comes into being, much as the flame of a dying candle lights the flame of another. The basic cause of this transmigration is ignorance, when ignorance is uprooted rebirth ceases,” said Siddhartha.

The little boy in the orphanage lit the candle. “How are you, my son?” her mother whispered. “I am fine, mom,” said the little boy. “You know I cannot sleep without hearing a story from you, so please tell me one.”

She did, recalling an Alif Laila tale that Iraqi mothers often told their children.

Dunyazad sat up and said: “O my sister, tell us a new story to while away the waking hours of the night.”

“With joy, my sister” answered Sheherazade, “only if this pious and auspicious King permits me.”

Although the pious King planned to behead his bride at dawn, he was pleased with the prospect of hearing a juicy story. “Go on, tell one,” he said.

Hermit Asita journeyed from his mountain abode to greet Siddhartha. When he saw all the right signs on his forehead, the sage announced that Siddhartha would either become a great king or a great holy man.

Siddhartha’s father, who was a king from a warrior caste, did not like this prediction. He knew a man of religion, no matter how holy, was not a king. He wanted a ruler for Kapilavastu, not a hermit.

“This is the story of a jinni who wanted to slay a merchant,” the mother whispered to the little boy in the Iraqi orphanage.

“Not this, mom,” said the boy, “you know the jinn scare me.”

“But these are scary days, my son,” said the mom. “I see no humans, only jinn and ifrits. Be brave, for this is our story. It cannot be different. I need to teach you how to tackle the jinni.”

The story moved to October 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York. A mother in a New York suburb was telling a similar story to her son, of good guys and bad guys.

His father was a fire fighter who died while trying to save those trapped in the twin towers.

“When you grow up, you have to fight the bad guys,” said the mother.

“When the merchant ate the dates, he threw away the stones with force. Lo and behold, a jinni appeared, huge and ferocious, holding a drawn sword,” said the mother to her son in the Iraqi orphanage. “Stand up that I may slay you as you slew my son,” the jinni said.

“And how did I slay your son, my lord,” said the merchant.

“The stones you threw choked my son and he died,” said the jinni.

But before 9/11, there was a war in Afghanistan, forcing millions of Afghan refugees to camps in Pakistan and Iran.

At one such camp near Peshawar, a mother brought her two sons, aged six and eight, to their father’s grave. “The communists killed your father. When you grow up, you have to kill them,” said the Afghan mother, giving them two AK-47 rifles that dwarfed the two kids.

When 16, Siddhartha married Yasodhara. At age 29, he saw an old man, a diseased man, a decaying corpse, and an ascetic.

Siddhartha quit his palace for the life of a mendicant. He wanted to overcome pain but left behind Yasodhara and son Rahula to suffer the pain of separation.

“If you overcome ignorance, you can end this cycle of rebirth,” said he.

“Rebirth and vengeance; are they linked?” asked Rashid, a Pakistani-American.

“How do I know? These are stories from your region. You should know them better,” said Jassim, an Iraqi-American.

“They indeed are from our region but we abandoned them long time ago,” said Rashid, telling Jassim how Taxila, the world’s first known university established by Siddhartha’s followers lay in ruins near Islamabad.

And after 9/11, there are drone attacks on villages in Pakistan’s tribal belt where terrorists hide among the villagers. The missiles kill the militants but they also kill innocent villagers.

There the jinni approaches the tribesmen, known for keeping a grudge alive for generations, and urges them to avenge the blood of the innocent.

A tribal mother takes her son to a mound of rubble, which was once their home. “The drones did this to our home. When you grow up, you have to settle this score,” she says.

But at the Springfield Shisha Bar, Rashid kept thinking about Prince Siddhartha.

Rashid always stopped before the statue of the Fasting Buddha whenever he visited the Lahore Museum, noticing that he shared a room – full of spears, swords and arrows – with warrior kings.

Rashid stopped, waiting for the full-throated laugher of the young couples who came to the museum from a nearby college. They walked pass the exhibits, looking at some with interests, ignoring others.

Like him, they too stopped before the Fasting Buddha, admiring the work of the unknown artist who made this masterpiece more than 2,000 years ago.

They admired the sinew body, weakened with fast and penitence and walked away. Still fresh on the wheel of life, they never bothered to look up for those who went before them or down for those who were following them.

When the moon rose above the Margallas in Taksashila (Taxila), the teacher reviewed his class and said: “Lord Buddha asked us to leave behind our lusts, desires and fears to free ourselves from this cycle of pain.”

The teacher too disappeared along with his students. And now an American tourist sits on the stairs of the Sirkup Stupa with his Australian girlfriend and drinks coke.

Rashid looks at the Fasting Buddha, hears the full-throated laughter of the young couples. Notices those above and behind him on the wheel of life and hears the whisper: “Soon, soon.”

A Japanese tourist says to his Pakistani companion, “I am not religious but we believe that if we put our finger on the bellybutton of a Buddha statue, our wishes are fulfilled.”

His puts his finger on the bellybutton of a statue in Sirkup, makes his wish and moves away.

Grinding wheels are placed in the corner of a room which once used to be the kitchen for students at this ancient university. It seems the students will come any moment and start preparing the evening meal.

In the Iraqi orphanage, the mother notices that the child is fast asleep, clinging to her image to fight back the jinni who wanted to slay the merchant.

She strokes her head and draws back to her unmarked grave. The flame that lights the candles keeps burning.

Nobody knows if it is the flame of hope or vengeance.


The author is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC

Comments (23) Closed

Sep 03, 2012 01:02pm
Good story Anwar, keep up the good work!
ramanuj ghosh
Sep 01, 2012 12:38pm
Yes amazing , let us all leave vengeance so that at least kids all over the world can sleep without fear hovering over their head. The author has written this very beautifully , intermingling inspirations from all over the world..
Sep 02, 2012 02:17am
Beautifullllll . Its a poetry in prose.
Sep 03, 2012 02:19am
Beautiful, poetic, most touching to the heart and mind. May we someday become a society where children can sleep peacefully, wake and learn of the better nature in people during the day, and grow to share it with their own children.
Agha Ata
Sep 02, 2012 01:27pm
I do agree one hundred percent with you on this, but in some cases the result of a war is just the opposite, like the consequences of World War II (Germany and Japan) Instead of having the lust to revenge they learnt a lesson.
Mustafa Razavi
Sep 01, 2012 04:28pm
raika45; You are right. The BJP minister in Gujarat, Dr. Mayaben Kodnani, who was convicted of murdering 97 Muslims earlier this week was motivated by some injustices to her family in Tharparkar. Although the lady doctor is too young to have witnessed these purported injustices, she was fed on a steady diet of hate by her elders. Anders Breivik of Norway, who slaughtered 77 of his countrymen, mostly teenagers last year, was also motivated by injustices to Christans and in fact mentioned Pakistan in his testimony. When the main stream media deliberately spreads lies to enrage the masses, a few get enraged more than the media had planned.
Henna Saeed
Sep 02, 2012 05:15am
Great read, really thought-provoking...
Akhter Husain
Sep 02, 2012 07:09am
Very touchy story.But this is what life is and will be even after all these tragedies we encounter day in and day out.Do we have any other alternative?Our misfortune is that we do not learn from the past..We only ridicule it and get to the old dirty ways.
Sep 01, 2012 01:48pm
at this point in time, vengeance supersedes hope i am afraid, being fed each day with some new atrocity
Sep 01, 2012 10:59am
Beautiful ! You have to chose between vengeance and Hope for better tomorrow !
Sep 02, 2012 04:49pm
Dear Anwar, your stories are consistently provocative & engaging. Something for everyone. We are all subject to the love & hate of others. We all suffer together & exist together. The best of us cultivate the love in ourselves & share that as much as we can with all of our brothers & sisters & especially our children. It is really sad to me how the evil prevails in our minds & in our lives & we hardly focus on all the great gifts (like children & a new beginning) that we are given each day. Each day is a gift. Thank you for sharing your story & inspiring me to contemplate what I can do to make this world better & safer for all of our children.
Sep 04, 2012 05:35am
anwar sahib, very touching and thought provoking piece of writing. it must publish in urdu for our part of the world where vengeance, revenge and illiteracy is on the rise. muzammil ahmad khan
Mohdudul Huq
Sep 01, 2012 06:26pm
Big boys never care about the issue of orphans and they are not interested about human elements; but only for wealth and world's resources.
Sheikh Sarmad
Sep 03, 2012 03:29am
excellent...a work of art
Tanveer Khan
Sep 01, 2012 01:00pm
Brilliant piece!
Sep 01, 2012 11:37am
Beautiful spiraling thread.
Sep 01, 2012 12:14pm
Almost all of us are born where some injustice is done to our parents or close ones.How one deals with this depends on one's upbringing. The human mind is like a computer. How you program it with the software you put in is how it will respond.The fault lies with not the mind. It lies in what you teach it.I feel sorry for those who grow up caring a grudge that may not only destroy the person but spread this "disease" for generations to come.For that you can blame the so called jinns or a cultural belief.
Cyrus Howell
Sep 02, 2012 10:11pm
For your better tomorrow, not FOR the world's better tomorrow. "That's what I'm talkin' bout." BUDDHA
Sep 01, 2012 03:37pm
Well written, is really alive to our heart to understand the real theem of his similar writ by him up many time ,with message,have we prepared to accept truth as it is ,beyound our others controll mind set with our selfish motivation as silent within?,we losted reactional power, we are slaves of others,who controlled our mind as we feel like a mother less child, we need to wake up, a real evaloution to be in within society by youth supported by elders for the generation to come, darkness are the fear of ignorence and in un controlled intellictual brain power, need to be eradicated at the progressive of any nation.
Ahmed Saeed
Sep 01, 2012 02:59pm
Excellent, but do we have the resilience to fight the bad.
Sep 02, 2012 02:48pm
Akhter Husain
Sep 02, 2012 12:29pm
Forgiveness is an attitude which is in short supply these days and vengeance and thirst for blood is in abundance every where.This, when combined with commercial interests, is devastating.
Shahnila Palijo
Sep 02, 2012 08:27am
very touchy and thought provoking!